The Sea and Cake | 06.20.18, The Old Rock House

Photo by Jason Green

w/ L.A. Takedown

On album, Chicago’s the Sea and Cake make for perfect listening on a lazy summer day. The band plays the dreamiest of dreampop, with Sam Prekop gently strumming as he whisper-sings abstract lyrics into your ear over Archer Prewitt’s noodly, jangly lead guitar and John McEntire’s sleepy, shuffling drums.

Live, however, the band is a different beast entirely. The guitars compete at peak volume, Prekop’s strums becoming stabs as Prewitt’s lead figures snake along the top of the resulting wall of guitar fuzz, while McEntire’s drums become a thunderous pairing for touring bassist Doug McCombs (McEntire’s bandmate in post-rock stalwarts Tortoise). To extend the summer day metaphor to its breaking point, if a Sea and Cake album is a float trip on a burbling brook, their live show is swimming in the ocean: vast, seemingly infinite, yet still surprisingly peaceful as you stand still and let it all wash over you.

Opening the show was L.A. Takedown, Aaron M. Olson’s seven-piece synth-pop outfit. The band (assumably named after the 1989 Michael Mann thriller that would later form the basis for Heat) proved a fitting opener, their gently melodic tunes often playing like the Sea and Cake with the vocals substituted for a pair of blippy ‘80s keyboards.

Taking advantage of the benefits of having a dedicated cult audience, the Sea and Cake went hard for new material, packing their setlist with eight of the ten tracks from their new album, Any Day (released in May on Thrill Jockey) while playing just two songs total from their much beloved ‘90s output. Their song choices made for a set filled with dynamic shifts. After opening with the suitably mellow (though pleasantly bass-heavy) “Four Corners” (from 2003’s One Bedroom), they followed with a one-two punch of Any Day tracks: “Cover the Mountain” roared to life as a more straightforward driving rocker, while “Starling” (on album as gentle and beautiful as its namesake) was packed with shifts in tempo and energy. The tempo shifts continued into “Afternoon Speaker,” this time with a jazzy, bossa nova flair and a bassline that was downright swinging. Later, “Into Rain” hewed closer to its album incarnation, making for a beautiful, evocative respite in the midst of the torrent of guitars that made up the majority of the show. “New Patterns” merged the two worlds, with the bass and guitars exemplifying that “burbling brook” vibe while the harsh snap of John McEntire’s powerful drumming drew all the attention. “An Echo In” was a delightful stab at ramshackle, Guided By Voices-esque indie rock, while “The Staircase” opened and closed gently but with an explosive middle; with a different guitar tone, it could have been punk rock, but with the fuzz stripped off, the song maintained a jazzier feel.

Though their musicality was captivating, there wasn’t much showmanship in the band’s stage presence, preferring to keep their eyes aimed at their shoes and let their music do the talking. One of only two rare moments of crowd interaction came at the start of the encore. Encores are always an odd moment at the Old Rock House, the theatricality of the moment warped by the band having to walk outside in plain view of the crowd, rather than directly offstage into a dressing room. Making it even odder this time out, the band marched past the door by the stage to the one at the back of the floor, standing on the patio for 30 seconds at most before walking back in to the audience’s hoots and hollers. “Play that one song!” a drunken reveler shouted. “Okay,” Prekop deadpanned, “here’s that one song,” launching into “The Argument” from 1997’s The Fawn, the oldest song of the set so far. The song’s skittering drum machine would seem a tough bit to recreate live but McEntire did so ably as Prekop and Prewitt’s guitars intertwined. “Coconut” followed with an insistent mid-tempo beat that hit that rare song-to-dance-like-Beatle-Bob-to cadence. (Bob was, of course, holding court up front, stage right.) “Parasol,” from 1995’s sophomore effort Nassau, wrapped up the night, starting gently and jazzy with Prekop strumming power chords, but then the energy level gradually built higher and higher, the band eventually exploding into walls of guitar fuzz akin to Hum.

As the final chord rang out, the band took one more awkward march through the crowd (this time to a slew of high fives) before leaving the crowd to drive home in the St. Louis summer heat, windows down, the Sea and Cake songs ringing in their ears the perfect soundtrack. | Jason Green

Setlist:

Four Corners (One Bedroom)

Cover the Mountain (Any Day)

Starling (Any Day)

Afternoon Speaker (Oui)

Midtown (Oui)

Circle (Any Day)

Harps (Runner)

Into Rain (Any Day)

Day Moon (Any Day)

New Patterns (Runner)

An Echo In (Glass)

The Staircase (Car Alarm)

Any Day (Any Day)

On a Letter (Car Alarm)

I Should Care (Any Day)

These Falling Arms (Any Day)

 

Encore:

The Argument (The Fawn)

Coconut (Everybody)

Parasol (Nassau)

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